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Post: Scientists welcome new rules on marijuana, but research will still face obstacles

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Scientists welcome new rules on marijuana, but research will still face obstacles

For decades, researchers in the U.S. had to use only marijuana grown at a facility located in Oxford, Mississippi. A few other approved growers have been added in recent years. As the Biden administration moves to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug, scientists say the change will lift some of the restrictions on studying the drug.

But the change won’t lift all restrictions, they say, neither will it decrease potential risks of the drug or help users better understand what those risks are.

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I controlled substance , which is defined as a substance with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. The Biden administration proposed this week to classify cannabis as a Schedule III controlled substance, a category that acknowledges it has some medical benefits.

The current Schedule I status imposes many regulations and restrictions on scientists’ ability to study weed, even as state laws have made it increasingly available to the public.

"Cannabis as a Schedule I substance is associated with a number of very, very restrictive regulations," says neuroscientist Staci Gruber at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "You have very stringent requirements, for example, for storage and security and reporting all of these things."

These requirements are set by the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Institutional Review Board and local authorities, she says. Scientists interested in studying the drug also have to register with the DEA and get a state and federal license to conduct research on the drug.

"It’s a burdensome process and it is certainly a process that has prevented a number of young and rather invested researchers from pursuing [this kind of work]," says Gruber.

Reclassifying the drug as Schedule III puts it in the same category as ketamine and Tylenol with codeine. Substances in this category have accepted medical use in the United States, have less potential for abuse than in higher categories and abuse could lead to low to moderate levels of dependence on the drug.

This reclassification is "a very, very big paradigm shift," says Gruber. "I think that has a big trickle […]

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